James Reynolds: Why mixing BTS is a challenge like no other

Having mixed records for the likes of BTS, Tinie Tempah, Disciples, Snoop Dogg, Zayn and many others, James Reynolds has carved a reputation as one of the most talented and versatile engineers in the music business. Here, he tells Headliner about his unlikely route into the industry, mixing with the biggest pop act on the planet, and the Merging Technologies kit that is so central to his workflow…

“I came into the music industry by a weird twist of fate,” laughs James Reynolds as Headliner sits down for a Zoom chat with the revered mix engineer. “I grew up wanting to be a skier, then in my early 20s I had a bad accident and broke my leg in many places. I had to learn how to walk again, and while I was recuperating – I was very lucky, I had a grand piano at home – I started playing a lot more music. I really enjoyed making my own music, so I got a four-track machine and started recording. That got my mind whirring and thinking about how I could record things better.”

This period of musical discovery lead Reynolds to begin engineering all manner of records, eventually winding up in a Hammersmith studio recording house music with his friend Matt Schwarz.

“That was the first part of the industry I fell into,” says Reynolds. “From there I went to Brick Lane where I made lots of house records for a lot of the big DJs at the time. I did that for five or six years, and I also had my own act called Braund Reynolds. We had a song called Rocket which was big at the time. Then I made an album with my manager at the time under the name Public Symphony, that was a very Pink Floyd-inspired album and took about six years to make. We recorded, mixed it and produced it, so I was learning how to work in all these different styles as I went along.

“Then I moved to my studio in Parsons Green in about 2005. There was a management company on the other side of my studio, and I became friends with them. While I was happy being an artist I decided I could easily mix records, as I know how to write, produce and mix. I spoke to the management company, and we started pitching. One of the first pitches I did was for Tinie Tempah’s album Discovery and the song I was given to mix was Written In The Stars, so I mixed it, sent it off, and I was against two other engineers. And they initially rejected it. But as far as I can tell they may have just gone with a bigger name. But later they did a sound test somewhere on Written In The Stars mixes and they unanimously chose my mix. So, they asked me to mix the album and it went on to go double platinum.”

Crucial to Reynolds’s success has been his highly adaptable approach, moving seamlessly between projects differing vastly in style and genre. This, he explains, is something he had to learn the hard way.

“After Tinie’s album, I was like, ‘I know what I’m doing and I’m going to do things exactly as I think they should be’. As we know, music is very subjective, so one producer will want their mixes to be very bottom heavy, others will prefer an overall clean balance. So the most important thing about mixing is finding out what everyone wants, so that you have the clearest picture of what the project requires. Then you start from a really empowered position.”

Having worked with some of the biggest names in music, it isn’t easy, he tells us, to identify too many individual career highlights to date. And with Snoop Dogg, Paloma Faith, Disciples, Zayn, Tinie Tempah, Calvin Harris and a long-standing relationship with BTS to his name, it’s easy to see why.

The Merging Technologies Anubis ties my whole studio together. James Reynolds

“There are so many I love for different reasons,” he says. “My career working with BTS from the beginning to seeing them become the biggest band in the world has been amazing. I was one of the first western mixers to be asked to mix a Korean record. We became good friends, and I mixed all the singles for many years, and it was amazing to see them blow up.

“BTS mixes are also a huge technical challenge. I’m getting 250 stems on some of them, which is enormous compared to a normal mix, which is around 30-50 stems. You’re trying to fit a lot of sonic information into a song, keep it as loud as any other song and give everything its place. It’s a long process and takes a lot of focus and time to get right. I’ve heard a lot of people get it wrong because they aren’t used to dealing with that many stems.”

A little over a year ago, Reynolds revamped his London studio, taking his kit spec to increasingly new heights.

“My speakers are particularly crucial,” he says, detailing some of the most essential pieces of equipment in his new set-up. “I have the Kii Three BXT system, which is incredible. The level of detail I get out of these speakers is amazing. Even Bob Katz has a pair and he’s blown away.

“Another thing that’s made a difference is the new DAW I work in. About five or six years ago I started using Studio One and I absolutely love it. For me it’s the perfect hybrid of creativity and functionality. I used to use Logic because I was spending my time creating music. Then when I shifted over to mixing, I stayed with Logic, and it was fine and I did some big records using it. But I found it frustrating because Apple became so big that there was no user interaction and feedback to developers, and the engine still has flaws. So I started looking around and heard a lot of people talking about Studio One. I didn’t want to go to Pro Tools because I wanted that creative angle. I don’t just mix, I get production gigs too, so I want that to be good, and Studio One is an amazing hybrid of Logic, Ableton and Pro Tools. The workflow gets better and better. I’ve worked with PreSonus for five years giving them feedback and they’ve implemented nearly everything I’ve asked for, which has been incredible.”

Another vital component of his studio is his Merging Technologies Anubis and Hapi systems.

“I have the Merging Technologies Anubis and I use it as my hub - I have all my different speakers on there around the room,” he concludes. “It’s brilliantly programmable, so I can create separate channels within the mix and have all my reference tracks, so I can super quickly flick through all the different mixes at the touch of a button. It’s just a brilliant bit of gear and it ties my whole studio together.

“For my soundcard and converting, I use the Merging Technologies Hapi. It’s absolutely brilliant and gives me so much flexibility to route everything around to my analogue gear if I want to. At the touch of a button, I can have it going in and out of anywhere. And sound quality-wise it’s incredible. When I completely rebuilt my studio, these pieces of Merging gear were a key part of that process.”